ITB in Berlin last week was the venue for release of a fishy survey suggesting that the tour and travel industry should prepare for the age of robots delivering more services. Overall, the Travelzoo survey of 6,000 travelers was an obvious play to garner more publicity at ITB that worked on us, but it did find a surprisingly high level of acceptance of robots, although there were regional differences and a more accepting attitude for certain tasks. Highlighted points drawn from the study include the following:
—Overall 80 percent of respondents globally expected robots to play a big part in their lives before 2020, with three quarters believing they will make their lives significantly better.
—Among British respondents, 50 percent said they found them frightening, and almost two thirds expressed concern about handing over day-to-day travel responsibilities to machines.
—British consumers expressed a preference for being greeted by a human receptionist in a hotel, with 86 percent preferring a human over a robot in this role. However, if the robot receptionist were able to handle questions more accurately and process more information with 52 percent saying they would choose a robot over a human.
–Nearly three quarters of UK respondents also believe robots have better memories than humans, can process data faster and are better at learning multiple languages. (What does that tell you about the other 25 percent?)
—British respondents were the most concerned about robots and the subtle understanding of language.
Just over three quarters (78 percent) of respondents doubted a robot’s ability to understand informal language such as slang, idiomatic phrases, irony and humor. (Sometimes comedians have the same problem).
—UK respondents clearly want a robot to look like a robot, and not too lifelike. This ensures clear separation between robots and real people: Nearly 6 out of 10 UK respondents (59 percent) would prefer a robot to look like a machine, and not have human qualities. (My induce an outcry about a new form of R2D2-like profiling)
—In contrast, over three quarters (76 percent) of Chinese respondents would rather the robot look like a human. (So they can be inconspicuously taken on shopping excursions)
—UK travelers seem fairly happy with robots being used within the travel industry, as long as a human is accompanying them. They don’t want robots to replace human contact:
—61 percent of UK travelers would be comfortable with robots being used in the travel industry.
—Travelers from Germany (63 percent) and France (53 percent) are the least comfortable with robots (Too stiff, perhaps?)
—Travelers from China (92 percent) came out as the most comfortable with robots being used in travel, followed by Brazil (73 percent) and the USA (71 percent)
—50 percent of UK respondents would accept the use of a robot as a hotel receptionist if it was accompanied by a human, and almost one third (31 percent) would accept the robot even if it was unaccompanied. (What about robots as a concierge?)
—Speaking to a real person when booking a holiday is important to UK travelers—they are the second-least likely to agree that they would welcome the use of a robot when taking holiday bookings over the phone (49 percent).
—Germans were the least in favor of booking via a robot, with 56 percent disliking the idea. (You mean other nationalities were comfortable giving the robot their credit card?)
—One third of UK respondents wouldn’t accept the use of a robot as a waiter under any circumstance—–British respondents were the most averse to robots being used in nurseries or kids’ clubs in resorts, with 55 percent saying they wouldn’t accept this.